Another record crowd of 52,079 filled the Marvel Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday to see history and they got it: Australia defeated the U.S. men’s basketball team for the first time ever, 98-94, thanks to a strong rebounding effort and a 30-point outburst from guard Patty Mills.
The Boomers, as the Australian men’s team is known, had been 0-12 vs. the U.S. in international competitions, but got a rousing exhibition win ahead of the FINA World Cup after out-scoring the American squad by two, three and two points in the final three quarters.
The game had all the razzmatazz you would see in an NBA game and then some, but when the basketball actually started, the U.S. had its hands full. An early 11-5 U.S. lead disappeared, but when Kemba Walker entered midway through the period, the U.S. forged a 24-16 lead on seven straight points. The quarter ended with a 26-23 U.S. lead on 59% shooting from the floor (10-17). Harrison Barnes had eight for the U.S., as did Aron Baynes for Australia.
The hosts wowed the big crowd with a 7-2 run to start the second quarter and thanks to strong backcourt and on-ball pressure, took a 38-33 lead after three Mills free throws. But after starting the quarter just 2-8 from the field, the U.S. came back to take a 45-44 lead on a three-pointer from Walker with 1:44 to play in the half. The Americans shot only 6-15 in the quarter to 8-18 for Australia, but held a 49-48 lead at the half. Australia could have had a substantial lead if not for a miserable 2-14 from the three-point line. Walker’s 12 led all scorers.
The third quarter was another see-saw, with the U.S. moving out to a 68-58 lead after some strong defense, punctuated by a Jayson Tatum steal and stuff with 4:58 to go. But inspired play from Australian center Andrew Bogut and Mills and poor U.S. shooting contributed to a 20-8 run to end the quarter with Australia up, 78-76.
A rolling 5 ft. flip from Baynes gave Australia an 82-76 lead a minute and a half into the final quarter, but the U.S. scored eight in a row to grab short-lived 84-82 lead. But Australia played determined, coordinated offense and despite starting the quarter just 3-11 from the field, took the lead at 88-87 with 3:27 to go on a Joe Ingles three-pointer.
Than Mills took over. The Australian (and San Antonio Spurs) guard banked in a three from straightaway for a 91-87 lead, then hit a layin for a 95-89 edge with 1:50 to go and a 20-foot jumper from the right side for a 97-91 lead with just 1:18 to go. He added a free throw and with the U.S. unable to score in the final minute, the final was 98-94. The U.S. shot just 3-9 and scored only seven points in the final 4:58.
The crowd went crazy, especially for Mills, who led all scorers with 30 points, aided by 16 from Bogut and 15 from Ingles. Walker had 22 for the U.S., Barnes had 20 and Donovan Mitchell had 12.
Rebounding was the difference and Australia out-boarded the U.S., 41-35, after being out-rebounded by 18 in the first game. Australia’s offensive cohesion showed with 50% shooting (35-70) vs. 40% in the first game, and the U.S. was down to 44% shooting (vs. 53%) on 30-68 attempts. Complete statistics are available here.
The U.S. had one injury concern, as guard Derrick White – who had eight points – tripped and slammed his head into the floor with 5:21 to play in the fourth quarter. He walked to the dressing room with a towel against his right temple. Forward Kyle Kuzma did not play.
It’s a disappointment for the U.S., but hardly an indicator of things to come. The U.S. will play its final exhibition game before the FIBA World Cup against Canada in Sydney on Monday (26th).
For Australia, it’s a huge confidence builder, which it needed badly after two shaky performances and having to play in a difficult group in the FIBA World Cup in a few days.